B2B Marketing Tips from the Funnelmentals Panel Discussion

Bizo’s B2B Funnelmentals event in San Francisco made for an exciting day; we loved all the insightful presentations and conversations. As co-sponsors of the event, we were invited to participate in a panel discussion on Modern Marketing, and the conversation uncovered lot of great insights; insights we want to share with you.

Bizo has done a fantastic job of summarizing the most valuable learnings from the full event, but we also wanted to answer some of the questions we didn’t get to during the panel. Our own Ryan Abreo has summarized the main insights from the discussion and even included a few bonus questions that weren’t answered Thursday. We hope you find it helpful.

Q: Where is content marketing headed? We’re all swimming in white papers, webinars, blog posts, videos, and Tweets; where should we be focusing our content development energy? What’s next?

With Content Marketing we’re trying to drive engagement, showcase thought leadership, increase brand awareness, support/accelerate the ‘Buyer’s Journey’ and so on; there are lots of objectives.

The biggest challenge we’re trying to overcome is content saturation and therefore prospect atrophy. The important thing then is to provide the right balance of quality and quantity: not too much content or too little, but always relevant. To nail down an efficient content marketing strategy, try to do the following:

  1. Make an impression – Ask yourself: how am I being unique? Ask yourself: is this content I would share with a relevant audience in my social network? Ask: what is my Content Reputation? Ask: is this content high quality and interesting, or mediocre and boring?
  2. Simplify Content Discovery/Curation – people have short attention spans, you have to be thoughtful about getting the right message, to the right person, at the right time, (and increasingly now) through the right channel. You have to combat content saturation with high-value, but “digestible” content.
  3. Mine Internal SME’s – content creation is expensive but there is definitely an “internal expert” within your organization; someone with great ideas but no bandwidth or competency for developing content. Facilitate content creation by making it easy on them.

Q: How has your own “marketing stack” (your CRM, marketing automation, analytics, DMP, and other tools and software) evolved over the past 24 months?

There has been a lot more off-platform, value-add development. The gaps between the services many marketing technologies offer reveal huge integration opportunities. Tools for consolidating the view of the customer and managing leads throughout the cycle will be the next big drivers of growth.

An interesting way to broaden that consideration is to look at the evolution of the entire ‘Sales and Marketing Stack’. The past 12 months have seen a climate of aggressive acquisition: Oracle [Eloqua]; SFDC [ExactTarget]; Adobe [Neolane]; Microsoft extending Dynamics via 2012 acquisitions of MarketingPilot and Social.

For the short term there are, and will continue to be, Apps or Services that extend or improve functionality as we evolve towards a “one platform” system; for now they are still fundamentally different products and services. In the long term, disparate marketing arms like social marketing, automation, CRM, and revenue performance management will be consolidated under one central program, with a slew of integrative benefits:

  • Data Management (one ‘master’ contact and account DB)
  • Closed Loop Reporting
  • Integration Simplification
  • Better Automation, Segmentation

Q: With the rising importance of technology in marketing, how have you changed your marketing organization? It seems that every company’s marketing organization is different. Is there an optimal way to structure our marketing team? Will a best practice organizational template evolve over time?

Modern Marketing exists because there is a Modern Customer. There’s been a rise in technology to support engagement with the Modern Customer, but it’s still valuable to keep a “customer-centred vs. technology-centred” view when considering operational changes to your Marketing Organization.

Yes, you will need technologists to run your technology, but you will also need customer service experts to connect with customers on a deeper level. Best practices are always first practices; this balance of technology- and customer-centrism will help you continue to evolve over time. Two important changes that support this balance are:

  1. Adopting a more Agile Campaign Methodology– really get focused on right message, right customer, at the right time, through the right channel.
    • OREO – “You can still Dunk in the Dark”
      • 15ppl in War Room – Decision Makers, Social Media Team, Web Design Team
      • 15K Retweets, 20K Likes on FB, trending for hours after the game
      • Actionable Insight: Knowing 36% of people “second screen”
  2. Being Clinical about Testing – build your “marketing strategy” from the bottom up with a firm basis in testing. This means WAY more than A/B testing a subject line, evolving away from HiPPO or even conforming to ‘best practices’; it means finding out what works for you based on a rigorous process of hypothesis and testing.
    • Obama’s Digital Team – Crowd-sourced Fundraising for Re-Election Campaign ($500M in Donations). Key Insights:
      • Test – Do not Trust your Instincts
      • Create a Culture of Continuous Testing

Q: What are your biggest challenges right now?

There are several big challenges in Modern Marketing which are really manifestations of the same problems marketing has always faced.

  • Proving Value/ROI – “not getting the most out of our technology investments”
  • Poor relationship with sales/combatting low credibility with Sales
  • Difficulty getting past execution to developing an actual Marketing Strategy
  • Data Acquisition: collecting it, analyzing it, acting on it

A Best Practice is a First Practice

Best Practice Pinboard

In marketing, a best practice is an excellent stepping stone towards innovation, but it is not an effective steady state; the value of a message and its means of delivery both degrade with exposure.

Today, many corporations are leveraging technology as a vehicle to communicate with their customers. However, many marketing departments simply employ ‘best practice’ configurations of that technology. They see the industry standard as a utopia of efficiency; a way to guarantee effective technology spend. This is simply not the case.

In many cases, a best practice is a process whose effectiveness is not negatively impacted by its use. In other words, in these cases, continued implementation of the same best practice does not make it any less effective. But there are also cases where effectiveness has a sort of half-life. Consider two common medical best practice scenarios:

1)      Apply direct pressure to a wound to slow bleeding
2)      Administer antibiotics to assist fighting a bacterial infection

Consistent application of the former technique will typically never hinder its effectiveness, as millions of repetitions of this practice, even on the same patient, will generally yield the associated outcome. This is a static best practice. It largely holds true until a better practice is developed to replace it. In the latter scenario, this is not the case. Some bacteria can become resistant to certain antibiotics – largely believed to be attributed to repeat exposure []. As with marketing messages and techniques, this type of best practice is a dynamic best practice – it can degrade with use.

Marketing and Antibiotics
Similar to the antibiotics scenario, the effectiveness of a Marketing Best Practice is directly proportional to the frequency of its usage. Consider this sequence:

  • Marketing technology is rampant[].
  • Innovative marketing departments create processes (message / media combinations) which prove to be effective.
  • Software companies aggregate these processes, defining and sharing ‘best practices’ to increase adoption of their software.
  • Marketing departments are exposed to best practices and begin to mimic them.
  • End customers are continually exposed to the same best practices (the same message/media combination) from multiple brands across multiple channels.
  • The effectiveness of the marketing dwindles with each exposure.

In an attempt to force better results out of the process, marketing departments begin to put undue pressure on content of the message, when the underlying problem is that they are simply mimicking a stale best practice. The audience has received the same message through the same media that has been used so many times before. Any novelty has simply worn off. No content, regardless of quality, can be expected survive this scenario.

A best practice approach is still a dependable methodology, when implementing technologies for the first time. These foundational practices are a great way to ensure you start on the right path. That said; do not expect consistently heroic results from these configurations and practices – especially if your competitors have already exposed your shared audiences to the exact same techniques.

The Marketing Medicine
To tackle this problem, it is critical for a marketing department to foster an environment where processes can be explored and tested against other ideas. This is especially critical for a brand who wants to stay ahead of their competition.

There are some simple first steps to transforming your marketing processes to encourage and drive innovation. They can be done in parallel:

1)      Build a best practice configuration of your marketing technologies
2)      Construct a data-driven, cyclical approach to your campaign planning[]

Building a data-driven, scientific approach to your marketing planning will foster an environment where information can be leveraged to make innovative decisions. A campaign planning structure which includes hypotheses and true experimentation allows organizations to break out from the paralysis that can be caused by relying too heavily on a ‘best practice’ approach.

This cyclical approach draws attention to competitive analysis and an audience-focused message. It complements the KPIs that already exist for marketing effectiveness, but also creates a framework for continued marketing success. Corporate in the infancy of leveraging technology for their marketing efforts actually have an advantage: they have the ability to leap-frog competition who have settled into a best (over-used) practice scenario.

The brands of tomorrow will be shaped by their ability to evolve best practices to better meet their customers’ needs. Those that hope to be lucky enough to continually stumble upon the best content and campaigns will inevitably become obsolete. It is only those brands and marketers that empower themselves to innovate consistently who will succeed.

Analyzing Email Marketing Benchmarks

The MarketingSherpa Email Marketing Benchmark Report provides some revealing insights into the email marketing trends over the last year, and provides insights for potential opportunities in the coming year. At more than 200 slides long however, the information is a little dense.

We encourage you to look at the original report to form your own impressions but to make things easier to manage, we’ve outlined three key insights we feel are the most applicable and beneficial for Business-to-Business organizations.

1. Measure the Right Metrics:

Some responses revealed a disconnect between strategy and tactics when it comes to email metrics. In aggregate, measuring engagement was seen as a higher priority than post-click conversion, but high engagement and high conversion were not always correlated. In fact, one response suggested engagement rates were highest in “knowledge sharing” pieces, while these same pieces also resulted in the lowest conversion of leads to sales.

“The most engaging content for our customers is knowledge sharing, but that tends to produce the least amount of sales leads.”
top-goals-of-email-marketing
What do I do? Ask yourself if the metrics you track are telling you what you want to know. If you want to know how many leads you generate from social media, you have to track more than the number of re-tweets. Remember, impressions do not necessarily equal sales.

2. Quality Content Is King:

Most responders (two thirds!) agreed that delivering quality content is a priority in email marketing, but nearly one third of responders noted that creating this content is presenting a problem. The inability to consistently generate relevant content was one of the biggest challenges faces by Business-to-Business organizations.
barriers-to-email-marketing
Oddly, only a third of responders integrate the company blog (a potentially huge content source) with their email program:
marketing-channel-integration
What do I do? If you can, supplement premium content like white papers or studies with lighter content like thought leadership pieces or guest blogs. This can fill the content gap and also give your subscribers one more point of connection with you, strengthening your relationship.

3. Make the Move to Mobile!

The responses around mobile point out a huge disconnect between what B2B customers want and what their corresponding organizations provide. One in four B2B users report viewing email on a mobile device and yet only 40% of B2B organizations design their emails to render differently and only one out of every six organizations integrates mobile marketing into their email campaign. Talk about a missed opportunity.
mobile-email-open-rates
What do I do? Even if you have already started the move to mobile, further integrating mobile into your email marketing efforts is a surefire investment. The percent of users accessing email through a mobile device increases monthly, so passing up this opportunity is just self-sabotage.

***
These insights may seem obvious based on your experience, or they may be completely revelatory. The interesting thing to note was the consistency of answers to the majority of questions. In most cases, for better or worse, there was consistency among B2B organizations in terms of priorities, challenges, goals, strategies, short-comings and even individual metric measurements. In other words, they’re all doing pretty much the same things in the same ways, mistakes and all. But this insight also provides a perfect starting point for correcting that course, outlining a clear path for improvement in B2B email marketing.

A New Cycle of Marketing

Only data-driven marketing teams who work collaboratively can consistently create the ever-changing combination of message and media necessary to attract and nurture modern customers.

Historically, even in the most advanced organizations, the division of marketing responsible for lead generation efforts has had a rather fragmented process. Leads are generated from marketing activities such as events, pay-per-click and other targeted audience sources, but delays exist in getting these leads over to the team responsible for outbound, follow-up messaging. At some point, these leads need to be handed to a sales function after being matured and qualified through nurturing efforts. This sales function can be a person (as in many B2B cycles), or an ecommerce portal, often seen in direct B2C products sales. Pressure to follow-up in a timely and personalized manner has driven the requirement for automation technology to assist.

The underlying concern with the current methodology is the disjointed environment in which it is expected to thrive. Nurture campaigns and other similar initiatives are under pressure to constantly innovate and resonate, but little support exists to enable a ‘quest’ for this utopia. In order to succeed, it is critical to create an environment where large teams can work collaboratively to achieve the ever-changing, required message and media combination to truly attract and nurture customers.

A major contributor to this problem is how technology has been introduced to assist the process. The abundance of marketing technologies has created a need for job roles within the organization focused specifically on system implementation work. These system deployments, integrations and general configuration changes within those systems are generally driven by a separate group of people from those who have a focus on the message and medium. Further, strategically, these activities are largely driven by suggested configurations (‘best practices’) developed by software vendors holistically for a broad set of users across many companies and industries.

Secondly, the results data which is produced by campaign initiatives is generally stored, but rarely used. Again, the disparate roles and skills required to manage and analyze this data vary widely from those who develop messaging and content. The most successful organizations are often mid-market and have found a small group of ‘growth hackers’ and ‘full-stack marketers’ who can embrace all of these skills. The truth is that these people are very rare and larger enterprises are not able to retain and scale their efforts around these unicorns. Even as the skills of the traditional marketer evolve, the need for focus and scale is critical for large enterprises, rather than evolving, scalable strategies based on specific marketing goals.

new-marketing-cycle

In this situation, it is unrealistic to expect that truly personalized, relevant messages can be delivered to an audience on a regular, ongoing basis – but the customer demands (and deserves) this level of interaction. Individual attempts can be successful, due to extraordinary people and teamwork, but even those groups cannot be expected to repeat their feats time and time again. As soon as a competitor’s message can resonate more than another’s, market share will begin to shift.

A simple shift towards cohesion of marketing efforts can have a significant impact. Marketing leadership must change the environment to support the ongoing efforts made by marketing teams:

  1. System implementation efforts must be driven initially by best practices, but then evolve to be influenced and driven by the need to scale successful campaign efforts across product lines, channels and geographies.
  2. Campaign planning must include hypotheses that are proven (true or false) and these results must be shared and accessible globally. This data along with traditional KPI’s must be leveraged in future campaign planning to avoid duplication of efforts.
  3. Marketers need to be empowered to experiment and innovate in controlled environments in order to ‘bubble’ up the most successful attempts.

Ironically, these changes often present themselves as a cost savings to an organization. For many, it immediately becomes a value add. Consider the enterprise with marketing efforts occurring across multiple product lines and customer geographies. These customer audiences are usually very similar and can be influenced by the same ideas. Yet, since no mechanism exists to support collaboration across the marketing groups, successes are not shared and assets, efforts and failures are reproduced. Further, without an understanding of what is working for everyone, systems are not regularly ‘tuned’ to support them. The system changes are instead driven by standardized best practices that no longer resonate with the buyer and are already being improved upon by a competitor.

Building a cyclical process and allowing these three functions to continually feed each other is the hallmark of an innovative marketing group. With every effort, regardless of outcome, the organization learns and enables itself. This combined learning then serves as a foundation on which to experiment. Even in the case of successive failed attempts, a marketing group would be more empowered than ever to plan the next campaign towards success. The company would be truly ‘listening’ to their audience. In turn, their systems evolve to enable the data, workflows and assets of a campaign to be widely reused, and brands would move one step closer to being truly customer driven.

Join Couch & Associates at Bizo’s “The B2B Funnelmentals Tour: San Francisco”

B2B FunnelMentals Tour

San Francisco, CA – Couch & Associates joins long-time partner Eloqua in the sponsoring of Bizo’s “The B2B Funnelmentals Tour: San Francisco”.  The conference will be hosted at W San Francisco Hotel, and will include ample interactive sessions and networking opportunities.

This half-day conference takes place on February 27th, 2014, and includes experts from Zendesk, Zuora, Bizo and many more. Topics will range from social advertising, marketing automation, how to earn interest with engaging content and how to land the right prospects.

Register Now!